Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Victoria Dock parkrun

London's Royal Docks is a collection of three magnificent docks built between 1850 and 1921 in the Plaistow Marshes area of East London. Until that time, the marshes were quite often flooded and only really suitable for grazing. However there is evidence to suggest that the area was inhabited during the bronze age, iron age and during Roman times.

The docks were created to relieve the overcrowding of the River Thames as the expanding British Empire generated more and more trade. The main docking areas in the Pool of London had become almost impossible to navigate safely and the East India Docks, constructed less than 50 years earlier were struggling to cope.

royal victoria dock

The first of the docks to be completed was Victoria Dock. It was designed to accommodate the latest steamships and was around 9 metres deep. In 1880 Albert Dock was opened and this was followed in 1921 by King George V Dock. At this time, the docks were also assigned their royal prefix.

The docks were of course a huge success and lead to factories and housing being developed in London's East End. They were also the first docks to be serviced directly by the railways. As time went on container shipping became the preferred method of transport and as these ships were too large to reach the Royal Docks, in 1981 their time inevitably came to an end.

the crystal / community gardens

At exactly the same time, the London Docklands Development Corporation was set up. It's purpose was to regenerate the Docklands area of East London. Canary Wharf, The Docklands Light Railway (DLR), The London City Airport and the London Arena all followed and the area is now a major business centre with many skyscrapers as well as being a highly desirable place to live.

The Royal Docks are now a focal point within the area and many activities take place on and around them. Watersports are one of the main attractions and you'll find opportunities to try all sorts of traditional watersports including rowing, sailing, and canoeing. For the adrenaline-junkies there is the Wakeup Docklands centre, on Royal Victoria Dock, which specialises in Wakeboarding and Flyboarding. It's also home to the London Triathlon which uses Victoria Dock for the swim section.

the opening section

The Royal Victoria Dock dockside is also now home to a weekly, 5km event called Victoria Dock parkrun. The main meeting point for the event is at the Crystal Gardens Community Hut, and you can store your bag and bicycle here for the duration of the event. A toilet can also be found here. This is also the location of the post-run social gathering, where free tea and coffee is on offer. Further breakfast options are available in the main Crystal Cafe from 10am.

There are a few options for travel to the venue, however you may find that you want to avoid driving when you see the price of the local multi-story car parks. From what I can see, some car parks charge £20 for 24 hours of parking which works out at a decent hourly rate if you need 24 hours of parking. But for a short visit of 1-2 hours it is of course very expensive. Other local car parks may charge an hourly rate of £10. For the record, the roads adjacent to the dock are for permit holders only. If you have to drive, it may be worth exploring the possibility of parking a little further away and using the DLR to complete the journey.

sunborn and excel

As far as public transport is concerned, there is no mainline train station within easy reach of the venue, and the DLR will likely form part of your journey. The closest station is the Royal Victoria DLR which is 3-4 minutes walk away from the start. The DLR actually has two lines running past the dock, so if you end up on the Woolwich Arsenal branch you could alight at West Silvertown DLR instead. However, there is also quite a unique way to reach the venue - The Emirates Air Line is a cable car that crosses the Thames between Greenwich Peninsula (the O2) and Royal Victoria Dock - The station/terminal is only 1-2 minutes from the start area. From what I can see it opens at 8am on a Saturday and the journey time is 10 minutes, but I would advise checking for maintenance closures for whichever form of public transport you may use before leaving home.

The run itself takes place over a horseshoe-shaped course (could also be described as two different out-and-backs) around the dockside which is lined with the old dockyard cranes. Underfoot is entirely hard surfaces (tarmac/bricks/cobble stones) and the course is nice and flat. Starting near the south-west corner of the dock adjacent to the community gardens, the participants head in a clockwise direction, passing underneath the cable cars as they arrive/depart the air line station, and head around to the northern side of the dock with the course sticking to the roadside area of path avoiding the steps as it passes the cable car station and the Good Hotel.

back past the crystal and onto the southern side

After a passing the some more hotels and dockside apartments, the course passes the Sunborn London which is a five-star yacht hotel. The route immediately passes the Royal Victoria Bridge and then enters the shadow of the ExCel London exhibition centre which hosts all sorts of events each year including the London Boat Show and the London Comic Con. It is of course also the venue of the London Marathon Expo, so I would expect a large turnout of runners at this parkrun on marathon weekend.

Once at the far end of the building there is a turn-around point (approx 1.5km point) and the participants head back along the northern dockside bank. Interestingly, at the turnaround point, the course is only 1km (as the crow flies) away from the closest point of the Beckton parkrun course which certainly makes these venues contenders for the two closest active parkrun courses (although for the record the respective start points are approx 2km apart and by that measure are not the closest). At this point you'll also be only 600 metres from the end of the London City Airport runway.


Passing the original starting point (approx 3km point), the route now heads around to the southern side of the dock, which has more of a traditional residential feel to it. The surface underfoot contains quite a few patches of cobblestones so take care as you work your way along here. Participants will see the Royal Victoria Bridge up ahead. This is a high level pedestrian bridge which cost £5 million. Its design reflects the appearance of the tall sailing ships which regularly use the dock. It's also worth noting that the entire course is right underneath the flight path for London City Airport, so you may get to see and hear some low flying aircraft.

You may also spot the large white art-deco building in the distance with 'Spillers' written on the side. This is Millenium Mills, built in 1934 to replace the original 1905 Millenium Mills building which was destroyed in 1917 when 50 tonnes of TNT exploded in a munitions factory. The current building suffered significant damage during WW2 and sections were rebuilt in the 1950s. The mill closed down at the same time as the docks and has been lying derelict for many years. Since then it has been used extensively for scenes in movies, TV and music videos. I understand it is currently being redeveloped as part of a £3.5 billion Silvertown regeneration scheme.

royal victoria bridge and southern side

Just after the bridge is the second turnaround point (approx 4km). It is currently quite close to the SS Robin which was built in London in 1890. It used to carry cargo around the UK and would have frequently used the dock back in its early days. However it is due to be moved to a new location at some point during 2018. Also berthed here is Lightship 93, a decommissioned floating lighthouse vessel. It's currently being used as an art studio and filming location.

After turning around it's just a case of following the southern dockside back around to The Crystal, which is one of the world's most sustainable buildings and contains the world's largest urban sustainability exhibition. The finish is located just outside the building via a little loop back past the main entrance (be careful not to turn back into the community garden area too early), and barcode scanning takes place outside the community hut. If you happen to visit during the summer you may spot the man-made Urban London Beach where you can relax on a deckchair in the sun.

the last bit and post run

I recorded the run using my Garmin and you can find the GPS data of the route on my Strava account. Plus I also created a Relive course flyby video which you can find on Youtube. The full results for event 5 were online shortly after the run and 93 participants took part. It's a lovely setting for a parkrun, and I was fortunate to visit on a day with brilliant weather. Great stuff!

Related Links:
The London parkrun Venues
The course GPS data
The Relive course flyby video
Beckton parkrun blog

Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Norfolk parkrun venues

The county of Norfolk.

The pins on the map mark the locations of the parkruns within the county. The green pins show the venues I have officially visited while the red pins are venues I still need to visit. The map below covers 5k events only, not junior parkruns.

Blickling - Blickling Park, Blickling, Aylsham, Norfolk
Course: Almost 2 laps
Underfoot: Mostly paths and possibly some grass (tbc)
Profile: Undulating/Hilly
Notes: National Trust
Further reading: not yet visited

Brundall - Countryside Park, Postwick Lane, Brundall, Norfolk
Course: Almost four laps
Profile: Undulating
Further reading: not yet visited

Catton - Catton Park, Oak Lane, Catton, Norwich, Norfolk
Course: A full lap followed by a figure of eight
Further reading: not yet visited

Colney Lane - University of East Anglia (UEA) Colney Lane Playing Fields, Norwich, Norfolk
Course: Small loop of playing field followed by two full laps
Underfoot: Mixed. Grass/paths tbc
Further reading: not yet visited

Fritton Lake - Fritton Lake Country Park, Fritton, Norfolk
Course: Two laps
Underfoot: Mixed. Gravel, grass, woodland paths and tarmac
Further reading: not yet visited

Gorleston Cliffs - Gorleston Cliffs, Nr. Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
Course: Almost two laps out and back
Underfoot: Tarmac
Profile: Mostly flat but with one climb to the upper level
Further reading: not yet visited

Holkham - Holkham Hall, Wells-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk
Course: One lap
Profile: Undulating
Further reading: not yet visited

King's Lynn - The Walks, King's Lynn, Norfolk
Course: Three laps
Underfoot: Tarmac
Profile: Flat
Further reading: My King's Lynn parkrun blog post

Mulbarton - The Common, Mulbarton, Norfolk
Course: 3.75 laps
Underfoot: Grass
Notes: During the winter the event may take place on a five lap course in Orchard Park
Further reading: not yet visited

Norwich - Eaton Park, South Park Avenue, Norwich, Norfolk
Course: Three-and-a-half laps
Underfoot: Tarmac
Notes: No dogs permitted. Course measured by an approved UKA course measurer.
Further reading: not yet visited

Sheringham - Sheringham Park, Upper Sheringham, Norfolk
Course: One lap
Underfoot: Woodland paths
Profile: Undulating / Hilly
Notes: National Trust. During summer the course may be adjusted to avoid cattle.
Further reading: not yet visited

Thetford - Abbey Meadows, Thetford, Norfolk
Notes: Single file width restrictions on course
Further reading: not yet visited

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Lulling's Tun

On the evening of Friday 23 February 2018 I paid my Dartford crossing toll and got my kit all ready for the following morning's revisit to Tring parkrun (my blog from my first visit). However, in the early hours of Saturday morning one of my touring companions found himself in a nightclub and pulled out of our touring arrangements.

Fortunately, I always have a plan B.

The original arrangements had me all fired-up to run an off-road, hilly course, so naturally my plan B was to visit a similar type of course, but one much closer to home...

lullingstone country park

So I headed off to Lullingstone Country Park for my third visit to Lullingstone parkrun. For the record, absolutely nothing has changed here, so I won't go over the course description or the history again - for that you can read my blog from my first visit here.

I had planned an easy run of around 25 minutes, however, my second touring companion, who hadn't been clubbing the night before, met me here and this meant that I got dragged around a little faster than intended (which was fine).

So twenty-two minutes and fifty seconds later I crossed the finish line, and in the process maintained my streak of sub-23 minute runs here, which might not sound that impressive, but you have to take into account that this venue is in the top 10 of UK parkruns with the most elevation change.

With the weather conditions being sunny, dry, but bitterly cold, the ground was mostly frozen and firm underfoot. Well it was until reaching lap two, where the combined footfall of the day's fifty parkrunners had turned the top layer of mud into quite a slippery surface.

It's always a pleasure to visit Lullingstone parkrun. Where other nearby venues are bursting at the seams, Lullingstone maintains a very intimate atmosphere due to its small community (the average number of runners is 47.6 per week). I suspect the course profile and the semi-rural location helps to keep it this way.

Since I last ran here the Relive app has been released for my phone, so I converted my GPS data into a course fly-by video.


Saturday, 17 February 2018

Linford Wood parkrun

I last visited the New Town of Milton Keynes, which forms part of the ceremonial county of Buckinghamshire, back in 2014 when I ran at Milton Keynes parkrun (my blog). In the time since my visit, attendance numbers had began to creep up into the 500's (occasionally into the 600's), and the town was really in need of a second venue. In July 2016 that second venue went live and its name is Linford Wood parkrun.

linford wood (parkrun)

Finally in February 2018 I got around to visiting the event which, true to its name, takes place in Linford Wood. I drove and parked on Foxhunter Drive which is adjacent to the start line. There is also an official car park located a short distance away off of Breckland Road. Had I been local and cycled, I would have used the bike racks outside the venue's post-run breakfast venue, Ora Cafe, which is in sight of the finish line.

If I had travelled by train I would have alighted at Milton Keynes Central train station which is just over 2 miles away and covered the rest of the journey on foot as a warm-up jog, but there are also bus services that will help you complete the journey - I'd advise checking these independently as they may be quite infrequent. For the record, there are no toilet facilities here - actually there is one in the cafe but it is only for customer use and I believe only post-run. As I had been driving for 1.5 hours, I decided to have a quick pit-stop at a local McDonalds en-route.

the opening stretch

Linford Wood covers an area of 97.1 acres and is the oldest remaining woodland within Milton Keynes. Eighty percent of the area has been continuously wooded for at least 700 years and this gives it Ancient Woodland status (I visited a parkrun in ancient woodland the previous week as well), the other twenty percent are trees that have been planted at later dates. The mature trees in the wood are predominately Ash (60%) and Oak (31%). During the spring, 'swathes of Bluebells' appear, creating a beautiful sight.

It would have been part of the Manor of Great Linford and in 1284 was enclosed by Baron Ralph Von Pippard as a deer park (for hunting) and for pig pannage (releasing domestic pigs into a wood in order for them to forage for acorns, nuts etc..). At one time the wood would have been connected to the village of Great Linford (and the Manor House) by a tree-lined lane.


When Milton Keynes was designated a New Town in 1967 the wood was retained as a haven for people and for wildlife. It sits in its own Linford Wood grid square, which also features a few office and industrial units. It is still home to deer and many other species of wildlife including bats, birds, amphibians and reptiles. The latter two finding homes in and around the wood's seven ponds. Pathways were laid in the early 1970's to give the local community good access and many of these are still in use today.

Upon arriving in the woods, the meeting point and start area was very easy to find as it was visible from my parking spot on Foxhunter Drive. The main run briefing takes place next to Keeper's Cottage Pond and the participants then move over to the start area which is in the north-east corner of the woods. The 5 kilometre run takes place over one single lap which covers a large part of the woods and some adjacent areas.

a made a new friend during the run

Underfoot is 100% hard surfaces (tarmac or similar) so road shoes are the way to go all year around, and the course profile is basically flat with the exception of the occasional underpass slopes which are all encountered during the first 2.5km of the run. The average attendance is about 180, but be warned that if Milton Keynes parkrun cancels, this is likely to jump up to around 500.

From the start, the participants head in a southerly direction along the eastern border of the woods. In fact the first half of the run is exclusively run on the Milton Keynes Redway System (Redways) which are a network of shared use pedestrian/cyclist footpaths. The redway name has also found its way into the local running community, with Redway Runners being the name of one of the local running clubs - very well represented I must add.

stanton wood and back into linford wood

At 800 metres into the run, the course leaves Linford Wood and enters the residential grid square of Conniburrow via the first of four underpasses that are part of the route. After following the Redway through the first three of these underpasses (via the adjacent grid square of Bradwell Common), the course returns to greener pastures as it follows the redway along the border of Heelands Sports Field and Stanton Wood - this wood, which is not ancient woodland, used to be contiguous with Linford Wood, but the main road now separates the two.

Once through the final footpass, the second half of the run takes place wholly within Linford Wood. The paths here are a little narrower than the redways, but as the field would have thinned out considerably, it doesn't cause a problem. After travelling through the western part of the wood, the course then turns towards the centre. It's worth noting that around here is a separate path containing a nature art trail - it's not part of the course, but it features some brilliant wood carvings in old tree stumps.

into the woods...

Anyway... just after the 4 kilometre point, the fun really begins. If you've read my other blogs you will know I'm a fan of twisty courses, because, well, they are so much fun. This next section features, I think, 17 corners which alternate from left to right. They are all quite meandery (ie no tight corners), and flow extremely well. Brilliant!

Finally the course emerges from the woods back at the original meeting point at Keeper's Cottage Pond where there is a 250 metre stretch to go before reaching the finish line. Barcode scanning takes place here and then it's time to head into the adjacent office/industrial area where the Ora Cafe can be found. I headed back out onto the course to continue taking photos for the blog (they have a very smiley, wavey bunch of runners here! Also there's an album on flickr) and before I knew it had run out of time and had to leave, so sadly didn't get the chance to sample the breakfast.

the last 300 metres and the finish

I had recorded the run with my Garmin and you can view the course data (hill profile etc) on Strava. I also created a course fly-by video with the Relive app on my phone. The results were online before I arrived home and event 87 had attracted a total of 276 attendees. As always, a massive thanks goes out to all of the volunteers who were fab - I had a great time!


Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Kent Cross Country League 2017/18: Sparrows Den

The final fixture of the 2017/18 Kent Cross Country League took place at Sparrows Den, West Wickham. Sparrows Den Playing Fields is simply an area of open grassland which is laid out with sports fields, with rugby being the main sport.

Although the official name of the race is 'Sparrows Den', it is only the race HQ, toilets and the start/finish area that actually uses this area. Technically the race itself is almost entirely (96%) run in the adjacent area of Spring Park. Only the first and last 200 metres are run within the Sparrows Den area.

hoops! [photo: anoushka]

Spring Park consists of open grass areas which are contiguous to the Sparrows Den playing fields and a large wooded area. Car parking for this race is possible in a number of local car parks or on Woodland Way which is the road behind the woods.

The course is made up of the start/finish straight in Sparrows Den and then the description gets a little weird. The official description of the men's race is as as follows; 1 lap of the field, 1 lap of the woods, 1 lap of the field, 1 lap of the woods, 1 lap of the field, 1 lap of the woods, 1 lap of the field, and lastly onto the finish straight and you're done.

course map / parts of the course [photos: 7t]

The majority of the course is largely flat, but there are two hills to climb as you head in a north-west direction through the woods, and although not terribly long, they are quite steep and bloody hard work. My favourite section of the course is the meandering single track path that runs along the southern border of the wooded area.

Despite having some stomach pain (possibly a stitch) during the middle of the race, I had a reasonable run and finished pretty much where I would expect to finish. It's a great cross-country course which is certainly very suitable for cross-country spikes.

I finished in 125th position in an official time of 47.21.


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